Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Beha'alotcha
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

Parashat Beha'alotcha

Divine Light

Why the Light? Ongoing Responsibility Negative Influence Asafsuf Irritated by Divine Food


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Sivan 5759
1. Why the Light?
2. Ongoing Responsibility
3. Negative Influence
4. Afsafsuf Irritated by Divine Food

Why the Light?
This week's Torah portion introduces us to the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). An obvious question can be asked regarding the Menorah: God, the Creator of the Universe, is the Source of Light. Why would He need the light of the Menorah? The answer: God commands us to do actions, in order to draw the Heavenly Light down from the heavens to the earth. God created the world in such a way that everything has to be done by us in the form of this-worldly actions. This - in order to draw down the Divine Light from above.

The Menorah thus symbolizes not only physical light, but also the revelation of lofty, spiritual divine light. Its seven branches symbolize the completeness and perfection of all aspects of the light. This spiritual quality of the Menorah is true of all mitzvoth, as well. Every mitzvah has a Divine source; the Jew's performance of a mitzvah constitutes the drawing earthwards of the divine light to the mundane earthly reality.

Ongoing Responsibility
According to halacha (Jewish Law) a person who lights a fire that then spreads and burns trees, fields, wheat, etc, is liable for all damages he has caused. This is so, despite the fact that he did not personally go and ignite each sheaf of wheat in his neighbor’s field, but rather just lit the initial flame. Everything that results from his actions is his responsibility. The halacha goes even further than this: Even when a person has passed away, if the flame that he lit continues to wreak havoc, his heirs are obligated to pay for damages out of his estate.

The Talmudic view that one who lights a flame that causes damage is culpable is based on the idea that one’s fire is his "arrow" prompts the Talmudic scholar the Nimukei Yosef to ask: Why is it permissible to light a flame on Friday afternoon that burns into Shabbat? Is such a situation not, after all, similar to that of a person who lights a fire on Shabbat itself? He answers: the continued burning of the fire is considered to be a continuation of the action that was done prior to the Sabbath; it is not considered, therefore, as if it was lit on Shabbat.

The parameters of the mitzvah of the Menorah mirror the law of the destructive fire in the laws of damages. As the evening begins, the Cohen (Priest) lights the candles; they then continue to burn all night long. Despite the fact that he has completed the actual act of lighting, from another perspective, we view him as "continuing to light" those candles all night long. Every flame that continues burning now - is attributed to his original act of lighting.

Every mitzvah is like a candle. Torah is compared to light. One who performs a mitzvah, raising himself to a new level that lasts days, is, so to speak, continuing to perform that mitzvah, since his ongoing spiritual progress at present can be attributed to his initial mitzvah act.

Negative Influence
According to the view of some our sages, the " Afsafsuf " mentioned in this week’s Torah portion is in fact the " Erev Rav " - or "mixed multitude" we have come to know from previous Torah portions. They are non-Jews who attached themselves to the Children of Israel during the Exodus from Egypt. In the course of the journeys in the desert, the Erev Rav inspired numerous crises, the most prominent of which was the building of the infamous Golden Calf. This Erev Rav was made up of non-Jews who didn’t seriously convert to Judaism, but who saw that the Children of Israel had been blessed with good fortune - and therefore decided to join them during the Exodus.

Now, this same Erev Rav sees that the Jews have been provided a special food - the manna - a spiritual food.

Just imagine that instead of breakfast each day, a technique is invented that would allow you to swallow a clear pill, lacking any taste or smell, a pill that would ensure that you’re never hungry and would never again need food. You need not chew, or sit around a dinner table. This was manna. From one perspective, it provided all of one’s needs, but its also suppressed any appetite or even desire to eat. If so, how did the Afsafsuf , in the Torah’s words, "experience a great yearning?" They were being provided with pills that satisfied all of their needs, and they’re complaining?

Afsafsuf Irritated by Divine Food
"The Afsafsuf that was [in the Jews'] midst yearned a great yearning," says the Torah. They didn’t desire meat, but they yearned to experience more yearnings . They wanted to experience physical lust. They sensed that their bodies were being purified by the consumption of the manna that descended from Heaven. The manna was Divine; it did not just satisfy the body’s physical needs, but also raised the person who consumed it to a high spiritual level. When a person eats miracle food each day, he becomes purified, and begins to cleave to the Creator of the Universe.

Our sages say: "The Torah was only given to those that consumed manna." We can explain this from an economic perspective - ie that those that consumed manna were"Kollel" fellows - they received food for free. "Your garment did not slip off of you," adds the Torah: There was food, there were clothes, they did not need to get to work; it was, possible for the Children of Israel to learn Torah.

Our sages also had a deeper idea in mind, however: "The Torah was only given to those that consumed manna" because they rise to higher levels each day. The falling of manna was not normal so, even if it falls today, who knows if it will fall tomorrow? Israel, in the middle of the desert, was dependent on its God. Each day they had to, for their food, turn their eyes Heavenwards. The Gemara in Yoma asks why it was that the manna did not fall once a year. One of the answers utilizes a metaphor: A King gave his food to his son. If he gave it to him only once a year, the would appear before his father the King only once a year. But if he would give him food each day, the two would see each other every day. So, too, Israel turned its eyes to its Father in Heaven each day to get the manna. Each day, Israel felt its direct dependence on the Creator of the World. This was faith education .

The manna was miraculous food, as the Talmud says, the manna was absorbed in all 248 limbs of the person that consumed it. The Creator of the World performed a great kindness for the Jews, who, after consuming manna, did not need to use the bathroom. Anyone who had to relieve himself had to travel 12 miles out of the camp. Yet, why was this necessary, asks the Talmud? The answer: True, the manna was absorbed into the body, and did not produce any waste products. What Israel purchased from the non-Jewish merchants along the way, however, was not absorbed directly into the system. Scoffers amongst Israel said: "A little more [food] and we’re going to explode! Is there any mortal who can eat and not have to relieve himself?" The Afsafsuf could not tolerate this situation. They were troubled by the fact that the manna pushed the Jew towards spiritual purity, to a spiritual world, a world of Torah...
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